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Interview of Eugene Shoemaker by Ron Doel on 1988 September 8, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/5082-4
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Early career in the United States Geological Survey (USGS); Atomic Energy Commission-sponsored surveys of uranium deposits in the western United States; USGS Grand Junction, Colorado field office; nuclear explosion crater studies; the MICE project; early lunar studies sponsored by NASA. Specific topics include Shoemaker’s investigations of the geology of the Colorado plateau; doctoral studies at Princeton University in the mid-1950s; his identification of coesite at the Meteor Crater, Arizona; and the Ries formation in Bavaria, Germany; the development of lunar stratigraphic principles.
One thing that we began to talk about in the last interview, there really was not much of a voice for lunar geology as opposed to geochemistry or geophysics in the initial make-up of the space science program. Were there any efforts that you recall making to try to alter the representation or to have your point of view expressed in the very early years?
In the very early years I was a pretty young squirt! I didn't really have very much leverage in that. Of course, Harry Hess was on the Space Science Board. He was a superb geologist and very well understood in what the geological aspects were about.
Harry Hess was appointed in 1962.
Oh was he? I didn't know that. In fact, I don't recall the dates that the Space Science Board was set up.
It was in the late 1950s. It preceded NASA by a few months.
Oh did it? I didn't know that. So Harry didn't join the Board until 1962?
Well, I had no hand whatever in that. I expect it came somehow from the Academy but you have probably dug into that and found out more detail. I never did ask Harry how he came to be on the Space Science Board.
You don't recall any discussions from anybody of why Harry Hess was selected to be chairman in 1962?
Oh, he came in as chairman? He hadn't been on the Board before?
Oh my goodness, I didn't know that. I think probably there was, and there still is, a policy at the Academy that wherever possible they like to tell their members to be chairmen and certainly to serve on those boards and committees. Harry certainly was qualified. He was a leading man in geology in the country at that time. I suspect then that what may have happened is that the Academy felt that would be a good step and asked him to do it, but who that might have been I don't know.
Harry Hess, of course, was one of the relatively few people who could support the idea of lunar field geology, particularly after the Apollo program had begun.
I suspect that there certainly was the sense that there would be manned exploration of the Moon or at least steps toward that even before Kennedy was elected. There might have been anticipation for a lunar program in the fact this was based on a large part on a geological venture there would probably be a Senate review hearing involved.
How early did you begin planning the draft that you presented at the SSB meeting in Iowa City in 1962 — the program for geo-geology on the Moon?
I don't recall working on it before going to the meeting. I think it was probably all done there on the spur of the moment. I think we sat down and collected ??. Kuiper was there — but I can't even remember the other participants at this stage. I do remember one thing vividly which has stuck to my memory about that meeting because there were some representatives that came up from the manned space center to tell us all about — wait a minute — Iowa City was in 1962?
Iowa City 1962.
It was in the Fall, then. Yes, that's right.
It was actually the summer meetings, held in July and August.
OK, I've got it. It was in the summer. There were a couple of guys that came up from Iowa City and they told us how it was going to be two astronauts. It was perfectly plain that they didn't want scientists sticking their damn noses in any way into the whole venture. They regarded us as a huge nuisance. It was offensive.
That must have stuck in your craw.
Oh yes! But the other thing that came at that time, a dawning realization, was that by then the decision was just about at that time or shortly before — NASA had made a final decision to go to lunar orbit rendezvous mission and then I knew that a geologist would never be the first man to land on the Moon. There was no question about it — there were going to be two guys in the lunar module. One guy was going to stay in orbit and I knew cotton-picking well both of those guys were going to be test pilots. You don't have to figure that very hard. If you had a crew of three — which could have been possible with other missions without doing a lunar rendezvous — then you could have had [inaudible] scientist. That was an enormous blow to me!
Do you recall who it was that came from NSC that came down?
There were two guys that came, if I remember correctly. I flushed their names out of my mind. I knew perfectly well we were working with sometimes stalling around for a number of years. I couldn't recall that. If you have access to the minutes of the presentations of the Board at that time, you can check on it.
We can check on that, right.
Those guys not only made me mad as hell, I am sure they had a similar affect on most of the other members of our panel.
Do you remember discussions with the panel concerning your draft that circulated?
You went to NASA headquarters right after that meeting. It was in October 1962.
The time that I was at Iowa City I didn't know I was going to do that.
How did you find out?
That was all just happenstance! I am sure, thinking back about it, Orin Nicks must have been at that Space Science Board meeting.
He was present.
I may very well — that might have been the time when I met Orin for the first time. He was one of my heroes, by the way. I think Orin Nicks is a fantastic person. So I was at the meeting but then I had field work planned that summer. You say the date was in June and July?
The Space Science Board meeting was in the summer. It was July and August I believe.
What I intend to do is get straight in my head. That summer I went up to Canada. In fact I was going back to try to do some field work on the New Quebec crater on the Ongala(?) peninsula. As it turned out the geological survey in Canada put another guy on the problem. I guess I at least stimulated them into doing that. So it became plain that it was Curry. Curry wanted — he was going to prove that all this hogwash about impact was a bunch of nonsense. Actually then I never did follow up with any detail work because Curry rushed up and did it. I did go up and got together with Mike Dense. We were both going up. We ended up going to Clearwater Lakes. I had in mind then that we were also going to try to get over and see the Maniquoti(?) crater. We had terrific good stuff on Clearwater Lake. I was also working part of that summer, that is where all my chronology is scrambled. I could probably go back and dig out notebooks to figure when and what happened but in any event, also during that summer I had spent some time down at Sierra Madera getting a project moving there. I had been down there previously and scouted it out. So Don Olsten and Dick Edwards and I started a really serious program of mapping.
While I was down at Sierra Madera I got an invitation from Max Fege at the Manned Spaceflight Center to go over. Not that Sierra Madera or Fort Stockton is all that close to Houston but it's all in the same state. We drove over in the dead heat. It must have been in late August. My remaining impression of Houston at that time is, "Who the hell would want to live here in this boiling humid heat." Sierra Madera was warm but it was dry. Anyhow, I got over there and Max offered me a job. He wanted to start up a geological group there, planning ahead for the lunar mission there was going to be. Max was a guy with considerable vision. Despite Houston I wasn't entirely negative to that notion although I really had in mind getting this place started here. So I talked to Max and thought, well, the thing I better do is go and see what the NASA headquarters are going to do about all this. So I didn't give Max an answer. I told him I wanted to go and see what their support would be — which is the right thing to do. So, I did. At some point in there — not long afterwards — I did in fact fly to Washington. I went in to see Homer Newell(?) and Homer said the first thing we had to do was set up some kind of way to manage the thing here at headquarters. He and Orin persuaded me to — the first step actually was to get directorates set up at NASA headquarters to help support this activity. That did in fact seem to me like that the was the right thing to do. On rather short notice, I agreed to go back to do that.
Of course, I had in mind this would be the way to get a scientist-astronaut rolling. There wasn't any organized way to do that within NASA. So that was kind of first on my agenda and the other was to get support going for systematic geological work. Of course, I was still thinking of doing that at Houston but more ideally I would rather do it for the Geological Survey. I did agree with Max to get an effort started in Houston. In fact, I recruited people from the Survey to go down as a team to help really get the training program going.
You had six people down there at one point?
What kind of support did you feel that you were getting initially from the Manned Spaceflight Center?
If I had been there as part of their team it would have been 100%. It would have been very strong, under Max — sure. The whole politics in the aero spacecraft center was something made in hell. Each division director down there was a very powerful guy. It was sort of like a feudal kingdom with each division director being a "duke." The whole thing was sort of loosely organized under a weak "king" — but Fege was a very strong "duke." He was a good guy to work for. Programmatically it would have made a hell of a lot of sense to do that but I had some other visions. I really kind of had my mind set on that — almost an institute. I thought it might be done within the Geological Survey here where you could get scientist-astronauts away from their day to day involvement in the flight program and all the other activities the astronaut had, de-orbit them for awhile, get them on the ground, give them three months of really solid training — which is what it takes. You have to go out and do field work to learn how to do field work! That is the only way you learn to do it — you learn it by doing it. That was one of the dreams I had.
That was the Institute for Space Science, I believe it was called at the time?
Well, I just say "institute." Really I had a mind growing a branch of astro-geology into that thing. I thought this was an ideal place to do this. Setting this place up was regarded was competitive with what they wanted to do at Houston, so we ended up knocking heads for ten years. Actually that was healthy. There was nothing wrong with that. We did help them get started but as soon as Fege saw that I was going to go in another direction he straight away went and just hired their own guys. They hired a bunch of real young, inexperienced people. Some of them where ?? turned out to be good scientists — and some not so good, just as you might expect.
The problem then was from Max Fege then when you continued to set up the astro-geology branch?
Max was just going to go his own direction. They needed geological support down there so they went and got it.
This was the team under Ted Foss?
Ted was one of the young guys hired. There initially was set up, Fege designated a guy by the name of Egelsey(?) to head it up initially — so he picked someone within his own organization. Egelsey was kind of the head of that. Later they did their damnest to run us out of the business but of course we didn't run. What started out actually, the initial group that came in — we had a very, very good group that went down there. Dale Jackson headed it up. It included Don Milhaus(?), Gordon ??, Al ??. In fact they got along marvelously well with a young group about a half-a-dozen fellows that Fege's outfit had already hired. Inevitably, you are going to be seen as competitor. As it worked out, a bunch of people got hurt feelings about the whole thing. But it got started on a very good basis. It went quite smoothly for about a year.
Do you have direct contact with George Mueller?
Well, some. He calls himself "Miller", by the way. That's the way he pronounces it. Of course Miller wasn't there when I went to NASA on a detail; succumbed to NASA in 1962. Brainard Holmes was associate administrator for the Space Center at that time. In fact, the biggest part of the problem that Newell and Nix wanted me to work on was to establish a directorate at national headquarters that would kind of provide a bridge between Newell's side of the house — space sciences and Brainard Holmes. Brainard Holmes was a strong "duke" at national headquarters. He was running the largest — as it very rapidly turned out — that mass space flight became the dog and the space sciences became the tail! People in that position are going to flex their muscles. So he holds that in mind to run his own show on science, you see. It was a very peculiar position to be in.
He was torn in two directions?
Yes. Newell wanted to set this up under his administrative office list. There was supposed to be a directorate that would respond to both. It turned out that Holmes had already hired a guy that he though was going to do this same thing! Amazingly enough it was a guy I knew quite well. He was a classmate of mine at Caltech by the name of Manford ??. We both arrived in Washington at the same time for the same job, under different auspices! Fred ?? had been in a key spot at the right time at JPL to help me get things going in the Survey. I regarded a Fred as a friend an ally and then suddenly we were at opposite sides of the fence — which was kind of strange.
How did you work that out with him?
Well, really it had to be worked out between Newell and Holmes. Homer was a soft-spoken guy but very persistent and basically he insisted that the directorate would be set up under — since it was science — it would be under him but it would be responsive to both. So I ended up with a job instead of Manford. I didn't fully perceive all of this before I went back to NASA headquarters.
That Fall of 1962.
That Fall — I knew Nicks from having a previous appointment.
What were your impressions of Orin Nicks?
I thought he was fantastic. He was both visionary and hard-headed and practical. He sort of epitomizes for me an engineer — a really good engineer with broad vision and a superb capability of working with people. He was just exactly the kind of guy to go and get the job done. Literally he is one of my heroes. I think the world of him.
Do you remember any conversations with him in particular?
We had a lot of conversations because we car-pooled together! We both lived out in Bethesda at the time. In fact, it was kind of an interesting car pool. It was very useful at times. There were several pretty top administrators in the pool, and I was just this young guy who would go along. It was very helpful. The interesting thing was that Orin grew up near Fort Stockton, Texas. He was a ranch boy. Here I had just gone and spent time down there, so we had some things in common to start off with. Orin was a very perceptive guy. As soon as I got back there I began to realize what the difficulties were. Of course, Orin and Homer were determined to get this thing going. I was simply a focal point to help set it up, recruit people, get the thing underway, and interface with the Manned Space Craft Center. We got the thing set up by sending a contingent down under Dale Jackson. I think from Homer's perspective and Orin Nicks's perspective that Orin was trying out of his office to give birth to another directorate: the one with which he was interfacing. They were quite happy with what I did because they wanted me to stay on and head it up. I did, of course, but I wanted to get back to science! I could have gone and been an administrator right there.
Newell once wrote that if you were in NASA you had to leave the possibility of doing science behind.
There is no doubt about that. But they very much wanted me to stay on so I guess it was a success. Maybe if I had administrative blood flowing in my veins I would have stayed there. Actually the truth is I am not a good administrator. I can do the job if I am very, very strongly motivated as I was at that time to get something done. But I hate administrative detail; utterly detest it. It took me a long way away from the science. What complicated things for me was when I got back that Fall I was feeling kind of puny. I hadn't noticed it much during the summer but I was kind of dragging around. So I went in to see a physician. He gave me a physical and checked me out and said my blood pressure was low and I was anemic but had no real diagnosis. I just continued to go downhill. I started losing weight. I was scrawny. I dropped all the way down to 145 pounds. By Spring it was getting really serious. I would go home and just collapse on the couch. I just didn't have enough energy to do anything. I'd just get up the next morning; physically it was a really difficult period.
Finally, it the late Spring I went out with my sister and brother-in-law and two very special friends from [inaudible]. We went out and boated in national park. It was my way of getting away from things and relaxing. After the trip I was flat on my back but it nevertheless proved to be the key thing. I came back and was incredibly tanned. Meantime I had gone to see another physician in Internal Medicine because I hadn't gotten any satisfaction before. He kind of probed around in my ears. At this stage things were starting to get out of control. I started losing control of my speech. I couldn't fully bend my knees; my joints were getting stiff. I would get uncontrollable spasms of hiccups — strange things — even to the point where the palms of my hands were starting to turn brown. If I hadn't found out what it was I had a year left to live! It was my adrenal gland. I got back and saw this Internal Medicine physician. I told him what happened. Bingo! He said I had Addison's disease. That was the diagnostic clue that finally tipped him off. It was a very difficult year. We ran the gamut of childhood diseases at home. Carolyn got the mumps all over again. In all aspects our year in Washington was grim. The worst part of it was by that time then I knew I was zapped physically as far as ever passing the physical.
The physical for being a candidate astronaut?
That was the cruelest blow!
It must have been a horribly difficult year.
I have to tell you one story. Among the many acquaintances I made down at the Manned Spacecraft Center that year was a fellow who had been very much involved in the early selection of the Mercury astronauts. Then they did the Gemini astronauts. He was a psychologist. He was a good guy. He had helped this whole group develop this selection procedure and so on. Later, when John Glenn left NASA and decided to run for the Senate the first time in Ohio, this fellow left NASA too and was John's campaign manager.
Do you recall his name?
No — I hope you can find it. He and I decided to team up because he felt the time would be coming to get scientist-astronauts too. I hope you get his name. We had a good relationship. I had gotten involved with him because I had started with some of the science training. They had invited me to come down to give lectures on lunar geology. That is before Fege had hired the other young fellow. During that Fall I did in fact start a series of lectures on craters, which gave me a chance to interface pretty well with some of the people down at Houston. We shared a common interest in trying to get the Manned Spaceflight people to start thinking about recruiting scientists. Fee was behind us, too — good man, Max Fege — he saw it was going to be important. Max was way ahead of all the other "dukes" down there on this score. There are some guys I give a lot of credit for. In fact, I could have been very, very comfortable working for Fege. So, Fege was supportive as well. We were going to brace Brainard Holmes at I think the last Mercury launch. I think it was Cooper's run. If it was not Cooper it was the second one. As it turned out, to get to the Cape the quickest way from Washington to get there at the right time was to fly all the way to Houston and then go back.
I really wanted to be there because we were going to brace Holmes on this whole thing — the two of us together. He had agreed to meet with us down at the Cape there. I don't know if you've ever been in the old Hobby Airport. That was Houston International then — it was the only airport in Houston. That was quite close to the headquarters of NSC at that time. It was a U-shaped building, with two long concourses going out from a central part. We pulled up to the gate at the very end of one concourse and my connecting flight was exactly on the other end! I could see it. By then I had long since become a traveler who carried everything in his hands. Momentarily, when I got off the ramp, I wondered if I should just run right straight across! But I decided to go through the building; they might arrest me or something if I tried to run across the tarmac. So I started running. It was a pretty good long course. It was in the Spring and my physical resources were shot. I ran as hard as I could until I couldn't run anymore and then I just walked. I got all the way down there and the agent wasn't at the desk. I could see out the window they had just started to roll away the stairs to the plane. So I busted right on down there and started waving my hands. They saw me, rolled the rig back up and I made it to the Cape in time to meet with Holmes! As it turned out we didn't have any luck. Anyway, at least we discussed it. I am sure there were other discussions underway.
What was his reaction, do you remember?
Well, he said he would take it under advisement, but he wasn't. That was probably the least of his worries. Actually I don't think the decision was made. You would have to find the exact date that Holmes left and George Mueller came in.
The decision came in 1963 that the first team would not have a scientist-astronaut on Board.
That decision was cast in concrete as soon as they determined the mission. There is no question about that and furthermore, the senior astronaut in the pipeline were going to go. There weren't even any scientists in the game at that stage. The actual decision to go ahead and recruit scientists didn't happen while I was at NASA headquarters. I left in mid-Summer and came directly to Washington; no decision had been made while I was there. It was some time during the following year — I believe probably after George Mueller came in as associate administrator for manned space flight. You could check that. I think Holmes never actually made that decision. I was not party to it. At that time I was back out here [Flagstaff] and I was not in the mill in any way on that decision being made later. Who made it and how it got made is an interesting thing I don't know. I am sure, knowing Homer, he pressed very hard on it. He may have well seized a good opportunity. I think Holmes was gone but I could be wrong about that. You need to check the dates as to when Holmes left and Mueller came. It might be that Holmes did buy off on that.
Do you recall any discussions with Tom Nolan during this period?
Yes. When I was back in Washington we did have a meeting between Tom and Homer. I remember at least one occasion was a kind of luncheon. We went down to the Cosmo. I think there were probably other conversations between Nolan and me on this. It might be recorded in Homer's book. Nolan is still alive. He is still very active. He is an amazing guy. I don't know how many conversations there may have been but I was certainly present at one of them during that time. One of my ulterior motives, obviously, in taking that job was simply to kind of cement or put into place the program we had here. It certainly had that effect. I really established working relationships with NASA at that time — too well, it turns out. I kept getting tagged to chair this dang panel and that dang panel! It was too much. I was willing to go for most of it. Fege and then later Newell were probably kind of disappointed I didn't stick with NASA. But politically that's not a bad idea. While it would have strengthened NASA more immediately if we would have had this program within NASA, it wasn't a bad idea. That's the way we went. Certainly Nolan was one who was willing to go for this and was the kind of guy who would sit down and talk about it. We had some kind of understanding on that.
Nolan was supportive of upgrading astro-geology when it was clear that you weren't going to be with Max Fege in the NSC group?
I think Tom wanted to feel that the thing would get support from NASA in some kind of understood agreement. Of course, NASA wanted to be sure they were going to get effort here. We tried to convince them we could be competent! In many respects it was about 9 or 10 months that I was back here. That time was well spent. I did help get the directorate in manned space sciences, as it was first called, set up at NASA. Of course they were important in funding us here, too. They created people for that. We got all of that going. We didn't succeed in getting a scientist-astronaut but at least planted the seed. Exactly how it got watered I've never known — I'd be interested to find out. I guess also maybe in some ways it had taken a little bit of my heart out of it —
With your adrenal gland and you knew you weren't —
Of course, I had a bunch of guys working for me here that were so hot to go! So it was important.
When you came back out here then in 1963, how much of your time was spent in research, how much in developing the center?
Well I came back to the job as branch chief. Of course, Don Elston had done the job in my absence. I tried to get as much science done as I could, by the light of the Moon on alternate Tuesdays! It was hard.
In 1962 you were also listed as the Research Associate at Caltech. What responsibilities did you have in that position>
In 1962 I actually came not as a research associate but as a visiting professor.
That was already in 1962?
Spring of 1962. For the Spring quarter I went down and spent the quarter at Caltech, commuting on weekends to see my family. In fact, they wanted me to come down there and be a professor and help start a planetary program there too. I had in mind a larger game but I was interested in Caltech. They didn't give up — Caltech is very persistent. After my tour in Washington — some of those guys figured I was a goner and that I was going to go off and disappear in Washington. That didn't happen! After I came back — after that year they asked me to come back and continue to give this course, which I did. Bob wanted to build up a group in planetary science. There were good guys there and I was interested in that too. Since he couldn't call me a visiting professor every year, I think it was his invention or probably Bob Bocker's (?), who was Provost at the time, said they would call me a Research Associate. What it was, was sort of a permanent visiting professorship. I didn't care what the title was. It was an official mechanism. Research Associates are not actually teaching faculty, normally. But my whole purpose of being a Research Associate was to teach! I could do my research here but I had always wanted to try my hand as a teacher, every since I was a graduate student. In fact, that was my game plan originally — to work for the geological survey for ten years and then be a professor. It wasn't ten years but more like fourteen, but I did go back. I decided I liked it well enough to continue. I kind of started leading this dual life. I would spend one quarter of the year at Caltech. Of course that didn't help research very much because I didn't get very much research done teaching courses. But it was a wonderful recruiting device for me. I had my eye on some good, young graduate students I was going to snarf off and hire in the geological survey and I did!
Which ones are you thinking of, in particular, back then?
One of the guys was a Ph.D. named Ken Watson. Ken, it turned out, didn't like Flagstaff. After a number of years he left. He's still at the survey——he went to Denver. That started up as a genuinely an offspring of our whole work. It started off as remote sensing. We sort of gave birth to remote sensing as it was headed up by Watson and Larry Rowen. So he is one. My first Ph.D. student was Dave Rodding. Dave was in my course in 1962 and I bent the twig at that time and he's been cratering ever since. We supported his thesis, which was the study of Flint(?) Creek crater — a beautiful Devonian impact crater. As soon as he got done we hired him. Dave was the first and the second was Tom Mitchell(?). We supported his thesis but Tom didn't come to work for us. He went off to MIT. That didn't stick and he went to Los Alamos and then he became a director of the Interplanetary Institute and died at a very young age of cancer. So Tom didn't come but the best find I ever made in regard to our program in astro geology was Larry ??.
Right. But he came a little bit later, didn't he?
Larry was kind of a joint student of mine and Brushner — that's what has made this program survive. Another guy who was a Ph.D. during that first year in 1962 was Hugh Keifer. He is now the branch chief. We have a Caltech mafia! Curiously enough the guy who heads up our Mars mapping program now is Dave Scott, who was not a student at Caltech when I was there. He was at Caltech — actually he is Bob Sharp's generation. He had two complete careers: one in the oil patch and then later he went back to graduate school and then came to work for us.
Was it Bob Sharp who was recruiting you directly?
What were your impressions of what he wanted to do at that time?
They were great. He was another man of vision. He built that division. The present division is Bob Sharp's. He went out and hired — picked out and sought out and got the smartest young guys he could get. He is a very persuasive guy.
He was also taking some risks, though, of going into planetary geology.
He had vision of where to go. After he became the division chairman in the early 1950s he went out and got Harrison Brown and went out and recruited a whole group that came from Chicago to Caltech and set up — Bang! — in all one swell hoop set up isotope geochemistry at Caltech. He recruited Brown who had the political horsepower to do it and brought this whole crew of people with him. Bingo! Caltech was into isotope geochemistry. They've been the outstanding group ever since. Brown was one of these very creative guys——lots of vision man. It was really Brown, as well as Sharp, that said planetary exploration was coming and that they had JPL up there and that they should be a leading center in planet Earth science. Sharp also, early on, established this very democratic tradition within the division. He didn't do these things unilaterally. We talked and the old timers at Caltech, who were the guys that Sharp recruited, and they have a universal admiration of him — a real "father" of that group. He was a superb teacher — absolutely one of the best. He was a superb administrator and he was absolutely — and still is — dedicated to Caltech. If there was ever a "Mr. Caltech" — he was an undergraduate student there. He went back to Harvard for his Ph.D. and taught around in the mid-west, and was involved in the war.
Had you known him well?
No, I overlapped him just one year. Sharp came the year I stayed on and took a Masters. But I knew him and I took his course. I was really impressed with the guy, just as a teacher.
Sharp won an award, in fact, for his teaching.
That's right. He was picked by Life magazine as one of the ten most outstanding teachers. He was a good one. He's another — well, I've been privileged to know a lot of really outstanding people. In terms of just overall breadth, capability — when I talk about people like Nicks, Sharp, Vincent Gelderman(??) — succeeded to ?? the director of the surveys, another one of these guys who are one of my personal heroes. The guys knew how to get things done. I'm not picking guys just because of their extraordinary intellect in terms of sheer science power. I know other guys who may be more impressive in that but I am talking about people whom I admire from a very much broader range of capability.
Do you remember discussions or debates within the faculty over the direction of research in the early 1960s?
The faculty was 100% behind getting a planetary science effort going and they had very good support from DuBridge.
Were you involved with any of the meetings that Bob Sharp had with DuBridge over expanding the department?
No, because really I was an outsider to that process at that time. I did question initially when the Russians finally put up Gagarian. DuBridge had made some public statements with the intent of trying to assure people that this was not a military threat. I did question at that time, because of those statements, his commitment to a strong program in planetary science. It turned out that concern was utterly unfounded. He really did support the program —
Do you have more contact with him?
Well when I finally went in as division chairman he was just sort of — DuBridge and Bacher were exiting the scene. I overlapped only a small interval of time. I rather wish I would have been able to overlapped them longer because they were really great to work with.
That was, of course, 1969 when you came on. We will get back to that in just a moment. What were your impressions of Bruce Murray? Was that the first time you had met?
I met Bruce before I went back in 1962 at one of those planetary exploration conferences. I was impressed with him and I had a good deal more interaction with him. Yes, I thought he was a real bright, energetic young guy. You know he got hired by Harrison Brown as a post-doc. He came out of there a little ?? He was a rather unusual geologist with a strong background in mathematics. That is not common, but Bruce had a clearly different way of going about science than I did but I thought he was very energetic, dynamic — it was pretty clear that he was going to go places at that time. I kind of admired the program that he was getting going. In those days you were trying to understand what you could really learn from the telescope — how to do much more precise photometry. Bruce is the guy who really perceived that you ought to be able to do precise electro-photography. He was interested in doing something new — differentiated distinguished rocks on the Moon by their structure. He and Jim Westphal went and actually set up a 24-inch telescope on Mt. Wilson. They got that started and in fact one of the early graduates — one of the early students of Murray's was Tom McCory. He went and did this for his thesis and was very successful. It worked — the concept was Murray's. That turned into an enormously powerful tool, not just for the Moon but for all solid bodies. That was a very good effort and it came out of Bruce Murray. Of course, it reached its maturity with the students and the students of the students! That's just the kind of guy he was. He had no background or anything. He was energetic and had some vision, and went after it. He went from being a research fellow to being a regular faculty member. He also enjoyed the political game very much. He used to like to go bang heads! He just relished doing that and of course they would bang heads right back at him. He was in his element — he really understood JPL pretty well.
He would bang heads with Pickering?
He didn't bang heads with Pickering but just all the fruits working with Pickering! But he lost the game banging heads.
Were you talking with him about that at that point, when he was JPL director?
Oh sure — some but not a lot. There is a time not to bang heads and to be more subtle. He had a lot of feeling for the political situation but he didn't quite have enough to make things stick.
— for a short reign. Did you meet often in the evenings at Caltech when you were a visiting professor in the Spring? Or were your interactions more on the Caltech campus?
On the campus. If you've been out of academia for 10-12 years it isn't easy to go back and teach a course. I spent most of my time preparing this course. That was part of the challenge to present a course in astro geology. It was all brand new. I was going to teach them about cratering, about the Moon and stuff. I was starting from scratch.
This was around the time you were developing the lunar stratigraphy and understanding the sequences.
Yes and trying to really understand cratering and cratering of the planets. That's what my course was built on. It was a nice opportunity, really. In one sense what I was doing was teaching, it didn't come out in papers, putting it in a very coherent form — a new science. It was kind of successful. It was time well spent but I worked pretty hard on it. I didn't have a lot of time to myself. I was still branch chief. I had to keep my finger going on what was happening back at the front — even though I was on leave. I don't want to talk about that.
To switch gears just a little bit — were you involved with any of the plans to develop the planetary sciences section within the AGU?
I wasn't on any of the administrative panels or boards at the time. When they set up planetology they just asked me to be the first — since you were starting this section from scratch you had to sort of designate officers so they asked me to be the first president. I wasn't involved in setting it up — I don't recall being involved. It just sort of happened. I said I would do it.
Do you recall what year it was you came on as president?
No but you can look it up.
Was it in the mid-1960s?
Yes, it was 1962, 63, 64, 65 — somewhere in there.
Were there difficulties in integrating planetology into the AGU? Did it seem to you to be a natural accommodation?
As a matter of fact AGU had already, well, the American Geophysical Union is kind of a funny organization. I don't know if you know the history of it.
Not all of it.
Did you ever hear of Dickie Field?
OK. It's the brain child of Dickey Field. He was a funny guy from Princeton. He was a well known teacher and he used to teach the introductory geology class. He would lead field trips with Princeton students in the summer.
He also had the training —
Well, Field had some kind of unfortunate accident — I think an automobile accident — early in his life.
I think that's right.
It kind of left him a little bit mentally strange. It didn't impair his analytical faculties but he was a little bit of a strange duck. He loved to be associated and affiliated with famous and powerful people. In fact, he was very good at it. He knew how to get acquainted with people and how to use these influences. He was the one who got Veenic(??) Minas to come over and do these cruises in the Caribbean. He started that. He went and pulled strings in Washington and got a sub! For Veenic(?) Minas to go and do his gravity surveys. That is how Harry Hess got into the Navy, as a matter of fact. Do you know that story?
I know a little bit about it, yes.
Hess was a graduate student at the time and he was working on serpentines for his Ph.D. Dickey Field organized this whole business of getting submarine — it was just characteristic. He met all the right people and persuaded the Navy this was a good thing to do. It was really pretty amazing when you think about it. Hess thought this sounded like an extraordinary interesting adventure — typical Harry Hess — and he got interested in the whole business about deep sea trenches because they worked on that ?? modern geosynclines, and Hess was developing his ideas about serpentines being squirted up in the middle of geo inclines. He thought it would be fun to go on this cruise, which he did. They got on the cruise to do this gravity survey — you understand why you go on a submarine? Because you get below wave height and it is much more stable. But they discovered that the Navy regs were such that they wouldn't let civilians on board touch anything. They could do their own equipment but it was really a pretty confining way to try to do science. So the second expedition, Hess figured he knew how to solve that.
So, he joined the Navy reserve and was an officer — then he could really help make the thing go well. Then of course what happened was World War II came along and Harry all of a sudden went Zip! and he was in the Navy. Of course, he ended up an Admiral — typical of Harry Hess. There are wonderful stories about that. He got assigned to report down to Washington from Texas. He duly turned up in Washington — of course this was right early in the War. There was some chaos going on so he didn't have immediate billet. So they said, "Go sit over here at this desk" and it turned out that the desk they told him to sit by was right next to a room where some of the intelligence guys in the Navy were trying to keep track of the where the German U-boats were. The Germans were just playing havoc with shipping across the Atlantic. So Harry didn't have anything else to do and he wandered in and saw what was going on. He started looking at the U-boat sightings here and one over here and something here — it was driving these poor devils nuts to try and figure out where these U-boats were going. It was exactly the kind of a problem a geologist is used to! It was just a natural so Harry got interested — "Oh yeah, this guy's going to be over here next week" and he showed up — he was sighted so about that time somebody took notice and said, "We've got something here" — so they assigned Harry to work on this. This is just typical Hess. He said, "Well, OK. They need some help to keep track of all this incoming information." He knew how to do that. He'd just get some more geologists. He went and got a bunch of Princeton graduates who had just gotten into the Navy and gathered them together. They did a hell of a good job of keeping track of the German U-boats and we finally settled that issue. That is a sideliner we discussed earlier because of Dickey Field. One of the other things that Dickey Field did was he founded the American Geophysical Union. He thought, "Wouldn't it be grand to get all these people in different disciplines that didn't have a good organizational home at that time together and we'll have this grand scientific group." So, he actually got the thing launched. It's really a very disparate bunch of disciplines if you look at it. But Dickey Field organized it! He was fortunate enough to get Athelstan Spilhaus to come in as an executive director. Spilhaus was the guy who put the life into it — you had to get a guy who would be it. It was during the 1940s and 1950s, a very loose group of people. They didn't have a very significant publication. They had the Transactions of the AGU as the only publication. You normally didn't report very important papers in that. All of this turned around, actually during the late 1950s when aeronomy and the whole business of particles and fields just took off with the inception of the space program.
And the IGY.
And the IGY. At that time the Journal of Geophysical Research was a small enterprise. It was not connected with the AGU. I think Merle Tuve started the Journal of Geophysical Research. It was kind of a little thing that got started on the side at Carnegie. About that time they decided to make a good journal and they brought JGR as a sort of a flagship journal to AGU. Of course, the meetings started to get pretty good with all the hot stuff coming in on space science. It was a natural place, then, for people who were interested in space exploration — whatever persuasion they might be. In the early days — before the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference — the AGU was the place where people came together who were interested in the Moon and interested in meteoritics, and all this stuff. We had previously met in Washington. It was just a natural focus. It wasn't as though you had to go out and create it to get something going — it was already going. So designating a planetology section was just sort of taking cognizance of what was already happening. We didn't have to go and create — just give a formal structure to some of these sessions and give planetology the recognition.
Did it stay active through the later 1960s?
Oh yes. AGU was still the place to go hob-nob with your colleagues in my business. The change came with the first lunar science conference. If you were really into the Moon business in those days you went to the science conference. Of course, by that time we had the first lunar institute ?? got set up. There was a home for that and an organizational structure for it. What really happened was the lunar and planetary science conferences over the years really drained away the good stuff that previously was at AGU.
Astronomers seem to be less pleased with the AGU section. Of course it was the late 1960s that the Division of Planetary Sciences was set up within the American Astronomical Society. Do you remember any discussions about that formation?
I wasn't a member of AAS at that time. In fact, the reason the planetary astronomers did that was that they weren't, for the most part, that heavily involved in the early stage in the space program. They got more involved, of course, as they moved out to the other planets. But they didn't have an awful lot to do with the Moon. There was this whole crowd of people — primarily geologists and geophysicists — and they didn't have a whole lot in common with the planetary astronomers. They were doing two different things, really. Most of the planetary astronomers were in fact interested in atmosphere. This was something you could still investigate and get a lot of good results on with a telescope. They actually had a better home in terms of colleagues to talk to and common interests and techniques. It was perfectly natural for them to go ahead and push to set up the Division of Planetary Sciences. Initially it was a group that was rather distinct — different guys doing quite different things from the people at —
— being trained at particular centers like Kuiper's lunar and planetary laboratory. Right. You mentioned a little while ago developing remote sensing and the larger questions of bringing in new instrumental and other scientific techniques into the work you were doing. Did some of that come out of your association at Caltech or was a lot of that developed here at Flagstaff?
We didn't develop the spectra for the metric technique here. That was really Bruce Murray and Tom McCord——really got going with——early on I tried to see if we could get some telescopic work. In fact, I sent Wilhelms over to France to work with ?? to learn how to do polarization measures. That looked like it might be a valuable tool. But that is as far as we went with it. What really got us into the remote sensing business was getting into basically into energy analysis. I guess you could call our efforts in that geology from telescopic photographs in direct observation telescopes. Actually I don't like the word "analysis" (??) — I never have. I tried to invent another word for it —
— for what we were doing. There's a good word but it never took.
But you got regolith through.
Well regolith was already well established so it was easy to transfer that. Anyway, what is called remote sensing now, which is this ensemble of things, basically depends upon different wave length bands and looking at images. It comes down to both the spectral component and how to handle two-dimensional array of data. The spectral component we never contributed much to but we did get deeply involved in trying to quantize first photographs. We kind of invented the technique called photochronometry. Jack Macaulay was the one we named — he did a lot of hard work here trying to understand roughness and quantitatively that characterize the topography of the Moon by detecting the photocarbon. We were not the only ones that got interested in this idea. A young man called Willingham(??) back at JPL got very much into this and took a range of pictures. Ken Watson was another. He wrote a paper that was very nice in support of the theory. I got Ken involved because he had good mathematic capability, to work on this. For some reason — and I never understood this — Ken somehow felt bruised out of that because he thought I never protected him enough against the claims of JPL.
Anyway, we did get very much into that aspect of it. We did not develop the original concept of analyzing a photograph digitally. What we did is we took scans of microdensitometer so we could have an analog array of data. Then we could break that down so we could do photo chronometry but we didn't develop a technique of just taking the whole image and digitizing it and then processing it, to take out the noise and contrast. That came out of JPL. I can remember vividly at an early experimenter meeting on Ranger when this idea was first presented — I wish I could remember picture perfect — he is still at JPL; one of the real pioneers ?? and I was astounded — the notion that you could actually handle that much data and break a photograph down into picture elements and put it into a computer and manipulate it was just mind-numbing. You have to remember that the computer capability wasn't then what it is today. It really was mind-boggling when I first heard of it. I didn't believe you could do it. Whether you could digitize the picture, that wasn't the question, I just didn't think you would be able to manage the amount of data that it would produce. Well, of course computers came along and it became manageable — not easily manageable at first. We never did any of this with the range of pictures — it was all straight photography. Nor did we really do it with a surveyor. It was still not there — or in the early planetary missions the capability wasn't there to massage data. So, JPL did the first real massage picture when we first got video data back from Digital form. It was of course coming in in digital form all the time but then it was recorded in analog. All the data was coming through — it was there — but people didn't know how to handle it. When you go back to it, go back to the ranger, imagine how many flights would be done at that time compared to what they do now. It was just information communication problem — the enormous distance it had come. After it became feasible actually to handle all this, it became clear that we had to give into it on that source. Larry Soderblom group came. I was hoping Jack Macaulay would take on the job.
You tried to convince him?
I tried to convince Jack to do it but to be honest, it wasn't Jack's ball of wax. He was a geologist and he wanted to do geological things. Soderblom was a hot young pistol all ready to go and he was fired up and ready to do it, so Larry got a ?? — he's done well in his field and as things worked out it's just as well. He's very, very competent. A lot of the major image processing — algorithms and programming. So that's been the biggest contribution.
Was this an interest that Larry Soderblom had from the time he was a graduate student, or had you helped steer him toward that?
Yes, see he also was going to map the geology of the Moon a la Murray. Murray and I never did agree that you could how to map the geology of the Moon. I could map the geology of the Moon by radio stratigraphy. Murray always had this notion, "You have to be quantitative," and he was going to come at it with measurement programs from another direction. In fact a major part of Larry's thesis was doing spectra photometry on the Moon… using the telescope. There was great potential here — he was an extremely gifted guy. He really took off, knew how to handle these kinds of problems. Yes, I would say he was interested in this capability to handle… [It] came out of his thesis although his thesis didn't precede it. We became an image processing center and, of course, we had to do that to really do all the kind of stuff ?? absolutely bread and butter — very, very fundamental part. Always of course our goals are not just to process image. We are trying to make maps — geology — to get to the end product.
Do you recall an particular discussions with Bruce Murray over stratigraphy versus his —
Bruce didn't believe the stratigraphy!
Not at all?
He wasn't a field geologist. He always fancied himself as a field geologist. I wonder if Bruce will ever listen to this!? He likes to go in the field and I am sure if he had gone and made that a major part of his research he would be a damn good one. But he didn't. He had a quite different perspective on how to attack problems. It's perfectly valid. That is the great fun about science, is that you can come in on problems through a whole wide range of different view points and different attacks and get good stuff on it. Bruce's approach is very valid but very different from what I would do. I thought I always appreciated what he was doing but I am not sure he ever appreciated mine then — but I think he does now. In a way I doubt if Bruce really understands the strength of what's in Don Wilhelm's book — professional paper.
The current professional paper?
Yes, and all of the work he started. It's just a very different way to go about trying to understand what's there. Of course I feel fundamentally that is what you have to try to do. We're trying to arrive at understanding geological history so you have to establish, unravel the stratigraphy on the Moon. I just always looked at familiar color or anything else in the physical property or observation on the whole. It's just a tool to get at that end result. I wanted to get there the most direct way I could. I was kind of amused at Larry. At his thesis stage he still thought that he was mapping the geology of the Moon. I think he now realizes that there was a lot more to it than just mapping the color but it was a very powerful technique he used. Very important in distinguishing geology. He started a little bit with a mixture of the Murray concept as well as mine.
Just to change the subject a bit — do you recall any particular discussions in the 1965 meetings when you were discussing the Apollo extended series and the post-extended series where lunar geology would become one of the major components of the Apollo missions. There is a separate lunar conference that was held right after the Woods Hole meeting.
There was a Santa Cruz conference. There was also a meeting down at La Jolla.
There was one that took place at Falmouth, Mass.
Yes, but that was pre-Apollo.
That was 1965 —
Yes, that's the one you're talking about —
I'm sorry — I thought you were shifting to the time period after we had our first success — what would you do then?
Yes. Those are the times when the plans for numerous missions, well beyond the ones that were actually flown, were discussed — whether it would be lunar traverses —
NASA was trying to get some definition what the science would be like at a stage in which a whole wide range of people had been brought into the new program. It was really kind of the fruit of setting up that whole manned space science directory, was to engage the broad scientific community to actually work in the results — by far the largest fraction of people was of course were the people who wanted to get their hands on a piece of lunar rock! And go from there with it. Most of the thinking was along those directions: what kind of sample did you want? How would you take it? But there were of course other people interested to see what type of geophysical observations you could make from the surface and orbit. So Falmouth was the first effort to engage a very broad array of people with different specialties who could contribute to the lunar program. Really it was focused more on what do you do on your first missions, than how to structure the remaining ones. I don't know quite what your question is, I guess.
Do you recall whether any particularly memorable parts of those discussions particular worries or issues that seemed very important to you at that time? Were there concerns that a lot of the work that you wanted to do was actually going to fly that you sensed?
Sure. There was a lot of tugging and pulling of people on how to try to do science on a lunar surface. We had a substantial gang of our guys here, who were in that meeting. I had notions of how you try to go into field geology. You try to do it the most effective and efficient way. In some ways these concerns are almost orthogonal to the concerns of people who want to get their mitts on a lunar sample. In fact, there are very few people that were involved in lunar sample analysis who had much understanding of field geology. They weren't field scientists. This includes, of course, some very outstanding and capable people.
Like Harold Urey, for instance.
Or Earl Wassernblum(??) —
Urey's student — yes.
Of course these folks did contribute an enormous amount of very valuable data — sort of the heart of the results that came back out of the laboratory. The thing of course that I have always been interested in is how do you put all that together. How do you interpret the lunar history. Our gang was sort of the voice for that really because there weren't other people working on it. Some were working on lunar geology; there could have been some in Houston, but they decided whatever we were for they were against! It was very strange. They didn't push field geology. That should have been a very powerful bunch of advocates for field geology and because of the NIH factor they didn't push it. That is one of the sad results of our not having gone to Houston. I could have accomplished probably most of what I had hoped to in terms of really setting up efficient techniques for astronauts to do geology and try to carve out and save time for them to be able to do scientific discovery.
But once you were outside of NASA —
Once I was outside of that loop it became virtually impossible. Slowly it was getting there but —
Do you recall discussions with Harry Hess about manned space flight as an enterprise itself?
Harry shared pretty much my notion — we had a very much in common — that the value of getting an astronaut on the Moon with a guy with the right scientific wit and creativity and observing capability to do this was really kind of amusing because a model that everybody had but only few people understood how it was done, was Charles Darwin. Here was a guy that went out on this expedition just from his raw capabilities of observing, came out with the theory of evolution. So the notion was that we ought to send a Charles Darwin to the Moon. Of course, since the Moon was a geological rather than a biological subject — of course Charles Darwin was a very capable geologist. So that was the idea but we never gave our Charles Darwin a chance. Harry was — it was kind of interesting — he didn't do field geology in the way that I grew up learning it, by going out and mapping. He sponsored a lot of mapping projects, very acute, but he really never generated maps himself but he understood it. There was certainly that concept. This of course took me a long, long time to realize that nobody understands how to do field observation unless they have done it themselves. You cannot explain it to somebody else — they simply don't know what it's about.
It's tacit knowledge.
It's tacit knowledge. You learn this only by experience. I can describe it to you, I can describe it to somebody else — but try to explain this to physicists and mathematicians like Newell and Naugel! Newell will say, "Oh yes, that's just how we do other sciences" — it isn't! It is not the same. Homer had an interest in geology, too. He's a very capable guy. It's very frustrating — if you couldn't explain it to Homer you can bet it's very difficult to explain to some guys at Manned Spacecraft Centers!
That is real interesting because Homer Newell after the 1962 conference said that your proposal for the scientist astronaut was the most interesting thing that he remembered hearing at the conference.
Did you interview him?
He was dead before you started?
I was a great disappointment… turned around and fired arrows at it — very sad. Anyhow, I actually realized all this when I finally went back and taught introductory field geology, because you'd watch — daily you can see this enormous stride in understanding — solve a little geological problem — well, what's the stratigraphy of structure —
So you took your students out —
It's a whole new intellectual experience — very challenging to watch the growing realization of what it's all about … multiple weekends in the field. It was a very rewarding experience. It finally really sank in, it's philosophically in principle impossible to convey this in any other way. No one can teach it to you — you only learn by doing.
That is interesting. You took your students in the introductory classes out on the weekends?
Yes, we used to have a very intensive field work program. This is one of the things that was a tradition. One of Sharp's strong points was he was a field man from the word "go". We aren't producing very many guys who do good field work — there are few superb field geologists today —
But they aren't training their own students?
Less and less are we really training people to be good field geologists. It's not a dying art but it's certainly one occupying progressively less in the profession. Very few people really understand about what's going on — but this was what going to the Moon in my book was all about. Why do you send a man up there? What's he going to do — discover what's there. So we would kind of hold up that end of the activity.
Did other Space Science Board members share your feeling or were there also difficulties in convincing them of the importance of field geology?
I don't recall there was any — Harry was chairman for a long time. I don't know if there were any other honest to god field geologists on the Board — probably not.
I don't think so.
Hell, you probably don't even understand this. You don't understand unless you do it. Simple as that.
Do you remember any discussions about sending a manned mission to Mars during that time? Did it seem to take the same context as —
I wasn't involved in the Board's activities when they sort of recommended the focus on Mars.
When you became the principle investigator for the geological field investigations for Apollo in 1965, what responsibilities did you have? What did you hope to —
I had hoped, well we actually proposed — it would be nice for you to get a copy of that document if you could — a very specific set of equipment. My whole goal was to relieve the astronaut of all the sort of nitty gritty detail tasks that you could — to make them insofar as possible automatic or semi-automatic. You would have cameras that would really look after themselves. We didn't want them screwing around getting good focus and the right exposure — you know, let's have equipment that does it for you. Let's get as complete and thorough a record of what he seeks with the least effort on his part. Early on they came out with this rule at Houston that you couldn't hang anything on the astronaut. Of course, as soon as they got on the missions they violated that rule — "OK, what we'll do is generate a thing that the astronaut can carry." Just to give it a name I called it a Jacob's staff but that's a very simple little tool used for measuring stratigraphic sections in the field. He's going to have to carry something — you can't hang it on him. So there would be a tracking device with a transponder on it — so you're tracking from the lander and you'd know at all times where this guy was in XYZ coordinates——automatically track. You'd put a small television camera on the staff so he goes along and it's taking pictures all the time. You'd also mount a film camera that would automatically take stereo pictures. All of this would be recording the exact position and orientation — you'd know exactly where it was and what it's orientation was at the time.
All this guy has to do is hit a trigger for the recording elements. You'd have a voice commentaries as the guy is going along. You would have continuous incoming information by a video of what he's seeing and you'd have a whole crew of guys on the ground trying to compile this — make a map and put all the things into context so that instead of going like an ordinary field geologist where you have to do all this yourself, you have this whole back room full of guys doing all your chore work for you. And, trying to understand everything that is coming down. Of course what you want is the real interpretation from the guy up front. We went through all kinds of simulations here doing these, trying to perfect the technique of how do you make this whole effort — give the maximum return for those precious hours that those guys will be out in ?? — and as much as possible, off-load the astronaut so he can spend his time looking and thinking about what he's seeing. And, if necessary, "Oh wait a minute — what's that? Maybe I better go back over here and look over there." That is the way you really work things out on the field. If he needs some orientational support you could get uplink response. You could say, "Oh yes, such and such was back here — here's the relationship," if he wants to know, but in general — let him go! It's sort of what you would like in the optimum case you could do this on the Earth for that matter. You come back out on the field and your math is all done! You've got it all there and you really sympathize and understood what was there. That was our primary focus was 'how do you make it possible for a guy in a few short hours to be Charles Darwin's and make some important discoveries. That's what I thought in my own mind. That was the holding of the game. Whitey prevailed; other geologists ?? better actually; remote ??.
As it turned out you could have done everything ?? on Apollo. Very few of the lunar science understanding that we could have gotten — same data or better, with perhaps one exception.
Give Schmidt a chance, you know. There were lots of things to be seen but if you're going to get the benefit of putting a geologist on the Moon you have to cut him loose and let him go.
He was still too constrained —
Yes, the whole thing is all programmed. That was the biggest thing. I will have to say the lunar scientists as much as anyone are responsible for that. Mission planners are used to the idea you have to pre-plan everything in space. They started off doing that with Mercury. So that became a set mentality of how to do this.
What do you feel the lunar scientist might have been able to do to have undone that link?
If all the rest of the lunar scientists had been field scientists this never would have happened — but we got pushed on this. They said lunar scientists were every bit as much responsible for pressing that approach as the engineers were. Frankly the engineers were more open to doing honest to god real field exploration than my scientific colleagues.
And they were more concerned to get the instruments in place and the particular samples made?
The actual fact of the matter is they didn't trust the astronaut to do anything right. They didn't want the astronaut going out there and making his own geological observations and getting his own idea about it. We never did any of the things that would have been easy to do. The thing about the lunar regolith is that at any given spot on the mare you've got a partial record of events that carry you back to the time when a lot of this came up. Or if you go to a highland region — relatively flat region — that matures slowly, the same thing would be true on the ??. So you have, on a late mare surface like the lavas at the landing site of Apollo 12 or Apollo 15, you have 3.3 billion year old lavas so you've got a record typically about 3-4 meters of regolith which is the depth of XXX. You will have a record of history on a scale that is comparable to a human being. The thing that you could really do — field wise — is to focus your attack on understanding that detail and stratify — the regolith stratify. One of the things that we did get out of our geology team was ??. We brought back some. We had a grill and we did push that specifically as an instrument of the team. Drills were more difficult — in fact they were extraordinarily difficult to ?? onto the tape. It was a super human feat to do the coring work. The ?? was much easier, but you can go much beyond. The obvious easy way to do this is you take a shovel and you dig them. You look at the wall of a trench just like you do on the Earth.
Of course you can take advantage of the fact there are a lot of pre-dug holes from craters and it would be possible with a combination of trenching — shallow trenching of the craters — to really put your nose up to this stuff and see what's going on; see what the structure is and really work out the history. Not just a gardening but preserved in the stratigraphy will be all the events. You will have gassing on the Moon, any of the events that affected interplanetary space in this neighborhood. Of course some of these are well recorded in the lunar samples — solar flares, cosmic radiation——but rare events such as nearby Supernova will probably be recorded. You won't see these — not all things of the astronauts — but the task of the astronaut is to understand that very detailed structure in the stratigraphy in that material and then sample. There is just a whole world to be explored that hasn't been touched. A few hours of very close-up observation and documentation, samples would have kept a lot of lab guys going for a long time. I am sure that all kinds of discoveries are waiting to be made and we've never addressed them. A lot of discoveries can be made by a guy right on the ??. But then they become particulars and then only enough can be made from the understanding that we get from field relationships and the samples that were brought back.
So the scale of geology to be done, really, in the early missions it was focused on this — in fact if you really wanted to get a good record in a late mission we never got to the point where you could have done this — there would have been a few omissions — but then to go to one of the largest craters that just almost disappeared. Within a certain size range you had craters that show all levels of degradation from the fresh ones to the ones that had been almost filled in. That's the shape spectrum you get within the portion of the crater population of steady state. What you do is you pick the upper boundary in the steady state — the largest crater — and that will be a crater that was formed very early, right after the surface itself was formed by a lava flow or some other major event, like a bis ejecta(??). It would contain within it the stratigraphy of a pretty continuous record of 3 1/3 billion years. If you drill the core of that you really have something. You'd have a record of all the rare events that occurred on the globe. You could spot the big impacts and distinguish all kinds of stuff. The Moon's been waiting for me — I'm not going to make it. We had conceived of what the problems were. We were trying to solve how you go about making it possible to get the most out of a few launches. I guess I am totally ?? — the Apollo program is a source of enormous frustration. I guess maybe I should have gone down to Houston ??. Nationally I should have been there. Then I couldn't have recruited the same guys——I couldn't have had this team of guys but Houston has exactly the same relationship.
To recruit capable field geologists down to Houston.
Well no, just attract really tough talent —
Within a NASA organization?
It didn't have to be NASA. There was no organization focused on this goal. But this is not a NASA organization, it's the U.S. Geological Survey.
Right. I meant at Houston.
Yes, if I had gone to Houston we'd have probably gotten closer to our goal but it would have been harder to get some talent. Some of the guys did go down, you know. Mike Duke was one of our ?? and he did very well. Robin Brett went down. So during the hay-day of Apollo you could attract talent.
Were some of the themes we've just talked about the question of the opportunity lost of looking at the Regolith in good detail — the issues you raised late in 1969 and in 1970 when you were talking about the Apollo missions? You gave a presentation, as I recall, at the AAAS meeting in Boston. Were those some of the themes that you wanted to talk about?
Yes. I tried to draw — at the AAAS meeting — an analogy between the early exploration of the American West and the Apollo program. The difference, of course, was the early exploration of the American West led to evolving, continuing, growing scientific enterprise. The Apollo program didn't. But at that stage it wasn't clear it was going to happen that way. I was trying to say what we wanted to do was just build on this early stage exploration and go on to a really deep, meaningful program of scientific exploration. Well, if we hadn't had the Vietnam War —
Were there particular individuals you had in mind when you were presenting that AAAS paper — who you thought you might yet be able to influence?
Oh, well you can't influence much by giving a paper. I guess the little bit of influence you can do is try and get some of your fellow scientists to think about it. There were then and there still are very few people who think about these projects on my paper. As I said, as much as anything the resistance to doing science in the mode to make it possible for astronauts to make discoveries was a problem of different perceptions — different ideas about the whole thing — from my fellow scientists. It wasn't a problem that was endemic in NASA. In fact, our best allies were the engineers and the mission engineers were the guys who were trying — they had a deeper understanding, really, and were moving toward this. We would have gotten there -– The real roadblock in the end was the perception of the scientific community. Most scientists are not really — even geoscientists — not geared in their present research to risk trying ?? scientific exploration. There are guys who are geared to how to do this "robotically" because they have a concept of an instrument and what specific new information of that instrument. Gradually I think the idea of how to try to synthesize information and turn it to geologic history is becoming more and more general among planetary scientists, at least among planetary geologists even to the extent that what we started within this branch at one time — in terms of geologic ?? — now, counting ?? is sort of a classical approach. It's still very difficult to explain to non-geologists "why" you do this or for them to even understand how you do it——how do you get from observation to the result.
That is a very interesting point that the battle was not only with the organization of NASA but within the larger scientific community that you had to deal with.
I was trying to give meaning and substance to human exploration basically, besides which it was a fun place.
We are really low on time. Let me just ask two quick questions before we conclude this session. Were you involved at all in the preliminary discussions to set up the Lunar Science Institute?
Yes, that got started when I was back in Washington ?? succumbed to NASA in 1962-63 —
It went back that far to those initial discussions?
Do you remember any discussions in particular over what form that institute would take?
Well it came down to a very concrete idea and Clark Goodman was one of the guys that really spearheaded this thing. He was initially interested in this. That whole motion of establishing some kind of scientific home for lunar science — as distinct from manned flight —
— in Houston and having it close to the Manned Spacecraft Center (the then Manned Spacecraft Center, it was named "Johnson" much later) so that there would be some kind of synergism between these two really evolved out of these discussions in 1962 and I was one of the supporters of this idea. Goodman was the sparkplug that really kind of brought it all about, made contacts with Rice and got Rice to provide the land, it was a long-term lease finance. You know, they found this little hill mentioned and it seemed a pretty good location. I was doing what I could to support that at that time. LPI was one of the things that I helped get going but not in a very large way.
Do you remember any discussions you had with Wilmot Hess at the time? How actively involved was he in building the institute?
Well, at that early stage Bill wasn't at NIC. He was still at Goddard. He wasn't really directly involved in conserving. My recollection is that the decision to go ahead and actually and get the LPI going had happened and was already well under way by the time Bill went down.
That may be. There are some records in the National Academy files suggesting that there was a large meeting in the beginning of 1966 over what direction the Institute would have.
Yes but this is after the Institute — I'm a little foggy on my dates — was after it was already well started.
I think the Institute was in business. Bill Rubey was there, I think.
We can check on that to make sure —
Now how Bill felt about the LPI when he got down there, I don't have any recollection. It's best to talk to him.
I just don't know what his feelings were. I am really foggy there, I am sorry.
One final question then — in 1969 you of course became Professor of Geology at Caltech and also the Divisional Chairman — did you have a particular goal in mind when you took on that responsibility for what you wanted to get done during your tenure?
Oh, a goal for the division?
For the division, yes.
One particular goal was I wanted to get some endowed chairs! Beyond that I can't say that I had some special new vision of what direction that the division should be going — I didn't. The division by that time was already rated #1 in the country. I was in pretty good shape — I thought I'd do a good job if I just kept it there! I didn't have any grand ideas of new departures — I guess the most important thing was finding talent and continue to attract the very best talent you can — that is the real heart and soul of the whole thing — was the people that you hire. The goal was to keep the division at its level of excellence. I concerned myself immediately a good deal with the finances — more so than my predecessor. I realized later that I was the only division chairman that really sat down and very accurately calculated the budget. The others all asked for more and then gave some back. I was used to working with very rigorous budgets. So when I got the budget I hit it on the money and came out on the mark. But beyond the notion I thought we really should try to get some endowed chairs for the division.
Did you have any reluctance to taking on the chairmanship?
Oh yes! I turned the job down once.
Was that after Bob Sharp had stepped down in 1966?
Well he was looking for a successor.
When they asked me if I would come, in 1967, I thought about it real hard. But I decided that I just couldn't walk away from what was happening here. After thinking about it for a long time I said very quietly, "Thanks, but no thanks." I took much too long to make a decision. So they went and looked for somebody else and they didn't find anyone else. About half a year later they asked me again! They caught me in a moment of weakness. Bob called me up and it was just at that time that I realized that there was just no prospect that we were going to get any direct survey support for astro-geology other than nominal, out of the survey's budget.
This was during the time that Bill Purcora(?) was director?
Bill was still director. I was getting pretty worn down butting heads with the NSC, the JPL — it was just a constant tug-of-war and turf battles and all that. I'd had my stomach full. So I agreed that I would think it over again and I promised Bob I would meet him at the airport in Los Angeles. We had dinner in that 'thing' that revolves — it doesn't revolve but it sits up in the middle of the airport — and I had forgotten where I was going but I promised Bob I would give him my answer. It was about in January of 1967. Of course, I went back through the same rationale — "I can't go, I have all these commitments." So I had already made up my mind that I just couldn't do it but it was kind of tempting. So I met Bob at the airport, we had dinner and I told him what my answer was. I said I had all these commitments that would take me right up through the first lunar landing — I just didn't see how I could do it. At that time I knew what the secret schedule was for lunar landing — summer 1968. So I said I didn't see how I could come to Caltech before 1969 and I was quite sure that was the end of the conversation because I didn't calculate any further, and I didn't calculate very carefully! He said, "Well, what would you say if we agreed to wait for two years?" I said, "I guess. "OK." He just took me completely by surprise. Well, the problem was that I had not made a probablistic assessment of when the first lunar landing would really take place. I was just going by the schedule. I didn't think it was necessary to make that probablistic assessment. Within weeks after I had signed a letter to DuBridge saying I would come and be division chairman on January 1, 1969 they fried three astronauts at the Cape. And that set the whole schedule back one year. So I found myself coming into exactly the situation that I was trying to avoid. I ended up in 1969 with two full-time jobs — one to be division chairman and all this other stuff! I can tell you exactly what happens when you try to do two full-time jobs — you do two "half-assed" jobs!
You stayed on until 1972 at Caltech.
It was a bad start. I wouldn't have taken that job. I had absolutely no commitment to be able to devote myself 100% to doing a good job as division chairman.
Were you able to delegate more responsibility?
Yes, I did some delegation but I found I wasn't spending as much time with students as I did when I went there one quarter of the year. I finally asked, "Why am I doing this?" As I said I am not really cut out to be an administrator. I hated administrative work.
And that experience confirmed it?
Yes. I very soon realized that I had become a living embodiment of the "Peter Principle" and I made a very wise decision to get out! So I had not done the job for more than about 2 1/2 years — it was supposed to be a five-year job — when I said I thought it was time to start looking for a division chairman.
Were you able to get, before you stepped down, any of the endowed chairs you had hoped to get?
No, it never happened. But we got one by a curious strategy later. I had taken Lee Silver on his first river trip down the Grand Canyon. He became a real fanatic for that. We ended up bringing up the scheme which mainly came from Lee — but we agreed to work on it together on a trip back from Houston one time when we were busy getting drunk waiting for a plane to get fixed (we were sitting on a plane at Dallas) — and we said, "Why don't we plan this scheme — we'll invite wealthy friends of CalTech to come on a river trip and we'll give them a royal trip down the Grand Canyon in turn for which they'll each put up a portion of an endowed chair." We posed this. By that time Barclay Cann(?) was the chairman and he bit on it. Our game was — the three of us then — was going to be the Robert P. Sharp Chair of Geology. The troops that do the fund raising at Caltech of course thought this was crazy but they said go ahead and give it a try. It took us three trips but we did it! So I did have a hand in raising the chair.
That's a wonderful story and we're out of time. Thank you very much.